Georgian-style houses are more than stunning—they’re an important part of US history. The term Georgian is used to describe a style of architecture that became fashionable during the reign of Britain’s King George I—who took the throne in 1714—and continued until the end of King George IV’s reign in 1830. Georgian-style houses were built with classical ideals in mind, particularly the “golden ratio," a mathematical ratio that’s commonly found in nature and fine art. Buildings designed with the golden ratio in mind have graceful proportions, balance, and symmetry. Here’s everything need to know about these historic homes.
What Is a Georgian-Style House?
Georgian-style houses are known for exacting symmetry and proportions, and are designed with the Golden Ratio in mind. They were built in English-speaking countries and colonies during the reigns of Britain’s four King Georges, between 1714 and 1830.
What Makes a House Georgian-Style?
The most defining characteristic of a Georgian-style home is symmetry. Georgian-style homes have a footprint that is either square or rectangular in shape. Most Georgian houses in the United States have either side gabled roofs, or hipped roofs, which slope inwards and upwards from all four sides. These roofs are sometimes concealed from view behind an ornamental parapet or wall, creating the illusion of a more symmetrical profile when viewed from street level. Other times, they will have dormers with sash windows. Most houses had at least two chimneys located on either side of the roof.
The front door of a Georgian-style house is perfectly centered at the front of the house, and acts as the dividing line between the two symmetrical halves. Prior to the Georgian period, front doors in England and its colonies were normally simple, made of wooden planks with little in the way of adornment; this changed in Georgian-style homes, which used sturdy paneled front doors, and quickly made them the most fashionable choice for residential architecture. The design of a classic Georgian door features six identical (and symmetrical) wooden panels, but towards the end of the period in the early 19th century, it became popular to replace the top two panels with paned glass.
The entryway of a Georgian-style house is flush with the front exterior wall, rather than being recessed into a porch or alcove. To help protect the door from the elements, a Georgian front door will usually incorporate bead and butt panels, which are perfectly flat and prevent rainwater from accumulating. The front door is usually flanked by pilasters, and can be ornamented with cornices, dentil or ogee molding, and pediments.
Above the front door there is often a semi-circular transom window, which lets sunlight shine into the hallway. Also known as “fanlights” because of their resemblance to hand-held fans, these windows are made from small, individual panes of glass that radiate out from a central point, and are held in place by glazing bars made from wood, lead, or wrought iron.
In addition to the fanlight, Georgian-style houses feature sash windows that are arranged symmetrically on either side of the house. These windows are designed using classical proportions, with the height of each window being precisely 1.6 times its width. Once you’ve walked through the entryway of a Georgian-style house, you’ll find yourself in a center hall with a staircase leading up to the second floor. On either side of the center hall will be the formal living and dining rooms, with the kitchen area in the rear.
Georgian style houses have high ceilings, usually 10-12 feet high, with decorative molding and cornices. Rooms are defined and boxy, with all spaces on the first floor designed for gathering, and private spaces like bedrooms and bathrooms relegated to the second floor. Most Georgian houses are two and a half stories, with the upper story used as an attic.
In short, here are the most common features of a Georgian-style house:
- Rigidly symmetrical form
- Symmetrical window and door placement
- Side gabled or hipped roof
- Two to two-and-a-half stories
- Fanlight window over paneled wooden front door
- Pilasters, molding, and other ornamentation around entryway
- Well-defined rooms
- High ceilings with crown molding
History of Georgian-Style Homes
Georgian architecture began during the reign of King George I, who took the British throne in 1714. This style was first popularized in England before gradually making its way to the British colonies, including the United States. Historic Georgian homes can be found up and down the east coast, and some of the most famous examples are in Washington, D.C.
Georgian architects were inspired by the proportional ideals of Renaissance art and architecture, particularly the buildings of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, who in turn was inspired by the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Known as Palladianism, this style flourished in Britain between 1715-1760, and became the basis of Georgian-style design.
In the mid-18th century, Palladianism evolved into Neoclassical architecture, which directly borrowed from the designs of ancient European empires. Aside from stately homes and manors, churches, government buildings, and other important public institutions were built in accordance with the Georgian ideals of proportion and symmetry.
After the US declared its independence from Britain in 1776, architects sought to distance themselves from any designs mired in its colonial past; while Georgian-style homes continued to be popular in other parts of the world, US architecture evolved to create its own national styles, like Federal style. Like many other architectural styles (like Greek, Tudor, and Colonial), Georgian architecture saw a revival period in the late 19th and early 20th century, finding popularity in other parts of the US, like the midwest. Today, new homes inspired by the Georgian-style can be found in many suburban communities throughout the countries.